Since Apple announced iOS 6 at WWDC 2012 earlier this month, you may have heard about a new application called Passbook, which is designed to keep all of your gift cards, coupons and tickets in one place. With a simple flick, users can summon their Starbucks cards, loyalty cards, train tickets, plane tickets and even sporting event tickets, right from their iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch. Going digital eliminates those last-minute trips to the printer, it's lightning quick, and it ain't too shabby to look at, either.
Passbook will be formally introduced inside iOS 6 this fall, but Apple may also announce an expansion of that software, specifically for an NFC-capable iPhone. With the recent discovery of iPhone prototypes embedded with code signifying near-field communication components, there's an excellent chance the company's next iPhone, which many have nicknamed iPhone 5, will feature Apple's patented iWallet technology.
iWallet: Your Wallet On Steroids
Apple won a major patent on March 6 for a piece of technology called the iWallet, which is a digital system that gives users complete control over their subsidiary financial accounts on their iPhones, and also leverages Near-Field Communication technology to complete credit card transactions directly on the phone as well.
Some will say, But Dave, I have a wallet. I don't need my phone to be my wallet. I'd also bet that 10 years ago, those same people didn't think they needed their phone to also be a music player, or a gaming device, or a Web surfing device. But now that it is, people can't live without any of it. Apple and Android have successfully killed the simple cell phone; now, it's a race to see who can pack the most features into a device that can fit in your pocket. And once your phone also becomes your wallet, your smartphone will definitely never leave your side. Apple wouldn't have it any other way.
The iWallet is your wallet on steroids: Not only can it complete transactions via NFC, but it can also complete transactions remotely and securely. In its patent filing, Apple explained it like this: Credit card transactions happen all the time, whether or not the cardholder is present. There's a lesser chance of fraud when the cardholder is there, obviously, but that's not always possible. The iWallet is Apple's solution, which aims to provide real-time authorization for financial transactions where the cardholder is not present, or remote. This could be integrated into other iOS applications as well, so users could visit movie ticket apps and purchase their tickets with a more simple, fluid process.
In the iWallet, users can see visit their entire credit card profiles hooked up to their banks to see their monthly statements, alerts, and messages from the bank. Users can even add additional cards, adjust their preferences directly in the app, and even schedule payments and alerts. It's possible the iWallet could also be integrated into the Reminders app to help alert you when it's time to pay the bills.
The iWallet is even kid-friendly! Parents will be pleased to know that the new NFC-capable iPhones comes with many useful parental controls, so they can set spending limits ($XX per day, per week, or per transaction), and they can even restrict which merchants a child can purchase from. If the child exceeds his or her monetary limit - set by the parent, of course - the iWallet can then request a direct authorization from the parent, via an iPhone notification. Parents can see each request, see what their child wants to buy, and either accept or deny the purchase. It's extremely useful so your child can get the money he or she needs, but smart enough so they can't take advantage of it.
Obviously, the iWallet can't work unless it's secure. Apple says that while it's best for cardholders to alert the authorities as soon as they find fraudulent activity, unfortunately, most people don't know their card is stolen until after they've received their monthly billing statements. The iWallet aims to bring greater awareness to the user of their transactions - users can flag any purchase like they flag an e-mail - but also facilitate contact with the banks and authorities when fraudulent activity is suspected or discovered.
What iWallet Means For iTunes
Users don't want to handle all of their financial transactions on a tiny 3.5-inch iPhone screen - or maybe 4 inches, we'll see. Apple knows that, which is why its patent filing described a new tab in iTunes called MobilePay, which lets users see all of their iWallet information at a glance.
When you set up MobilePay, iTunes will ask cardholders to submit their credit card information, including their card number, name, address, and eligibility. At that point, you will be able to sync your credit card on iTunes to your iPhone, which will automatically push all of your data to your phone.
Similar to the iPhone version, MobilePay lets users monitor their statements, bank messages, recent purchases and alerts, as well as set parental controls and more alerts. MobilePay will be an option for users to toggle within iTunes once the platform becomes available.
Obviously, the current version of iTunes can't handle the iWallet, so it's safe to assume Apple will at the very least release an update for iTunes to support MobilePay, if not an entirely new version of iTunes for this advance in mobile-based technology.
The iWallet has many different features, including giving users the ability to see their entire credit card profiles, view statements and messages from their banks, and set parental controls for their children, should they also want to use their iPhones as digital wallets. Outside of the iPhone, users can keep track of their payments and statements within the iTunes billing system, which keeps credit card information and records safe and secure.
How Do We Know NFC Is Coming To The New iPhone?
While sifting through data pulled from two PreEVT iPhone prototypes, codenamed iPhone 5,1 (N41AP 5,1) and iPhone 5,2 (N42AP 5,2), 9 to 5 Mac discovered an important piece of hardware code it had missed the first time around, which it unveiled on Monday. (During the first examination of the code, the site discovered details that described a bigger 1,136 x 640 display, which would be appropriate for a phone with about a 4-inch screen.) On this go-around, 9 to 5 Mac explained how it believes these iPhones have near-field communication controllers built directly into the iPhone prototype's power management unit.
Apple had everyone believing the iPhone 4S would be the phone to introduce NFC. With the unveiling of Google Wallet and the Wallet for Windows Phone 8 in 2011 - and the hiring of NFC expert Benjamin Vigier to become Apple's new product manager for mobile commerce in 2010 - everyone thought the iPhone 4S would unveil this powerful technology. Alas, it was not to be... but that made it even more likely that the next phone would support NFC.
With the debut of Passbook with iOS 6 - which will almost certainly be unveiled alongside the iPhone 5 this fall - NFC is a near-certain feature on the iPhone 5.
What Other Features Can We Expect In The iPhone 5?
iTunes Gifting: Speaking of NFC... Another Apple patent unveiled in April described a system for standardized buying, sending, and receiving of media files from a media provider (iTunes) between multiple devices (iPhones, iPads, and iPod Touchs). The process was simply called, Gifting, and it would certainly work with an NFC-capable iPhone.
Downloading and storing digital media with online service providers has become commonplace -- more so than purchasing DVDs and CDs at physical stores - but it's not very easy to transfer digital files from one individual to another, usually because of copyright laws. Apple believes Gifting is the solution.
One method for gifting requires the sender to authorize a gift charge to their iTunes account, which is then transmitted from the sender's device to the receiver's device -- via tapping, or as long as they're nearby -- thanks to the NFC chip. If the recipient of the gift isn't nearby -- or you want it to be a surprise -- the gift-giver may submit an official request with iTunes, which then processes the request and charges the initiator's account for the given file. The patent also allows for multiple gifts to be sent in a single transaction, as well as certain customization options for the gifts -- including voice greetings and custom gift images, likely to conceal the gift's identity before the receipient opens it.
LTE Connectivity: It's a foregone conclusion that Apple will implement radio bands for 4G LTE in the iPhone 5, given that Apple introduced the high-speed network on its new iPad, released on March 16, which was likely done as a practice run.
LTE features significantly higher download and upload speeds compared to 3G technologies, but previous implementations of LTE in smartphones tended to ravage battery life, which was a major complaint from users. If Apple wanted LTE in the iPhone 4S at the time, it would have been forced to increase the phone's thickness to accommodate a larger circuit board and a bigger battery. As Apple CEO Tim Cook noted in a company earnings conference call in April 2011, first-generation LTE chipsets force a lot of design compromises.
Back in March, Qualcomm recently unveiled the fifth iteration of its new chip, which supports TD-SCDMA, TD-LTE, HSPA+, EV-DO, embedded GPS, and LTE on TDD and FDD networks worldwide. The chip works with Android and Windows 8 devices, but there's an excellent chance this will be the same chip inside the iPhone 5.
Advanced Haptics: Microsoft just stepped its game up with the Surface tablet, featuring a touch-sensitive keyboard built directly into the tablet's protective cover. New ways of interacting with the screen are all the rage -- haptics companies are springing up, and styluses are even making a comeback -- and it seems Apple is already on the bandwagon.
A recently published Apple patent describes a new haptics feedback system that allows a user to interact with the content on the screen by touching it, which is accomplished with sensors and actuators working simultaneously. The new multi-tiered system is extremely sophisticated: Using several layers of elastic screens stacked on top of each other, Apple's screen can produce 3D buttons or objects to interact with, as well as give texture to images, like topographical maps.
Apple's haptic system can create different types of actions, including vibration, net displacement, bending, deforming, or any combination of those elements. The technology can also work with a secondary display screen or audio system, which would be useful if Apple ever builds its iTV, but the system can also be applied to flexible organic light emitting diode (OLED) screens. This advanced haptics system would also work with almost every portable Apple device, including iPhones, iPod Touch devices, iPads, MacBooks, and even TVs, video projectors and e-Ink displays.
Crack-Proof Glass: Everyone who's ever had a rough Saturday night would certainly love this patent. Granted on Nov. 15, Apple's patent for crack-resistant glass uses the same alumino silicate glass solution used in the iPhone 4 and 4S, but chemically treats it with potassium and sodium ions to achieve greater compression thresholds on the surface and edges of the glass, making it less susceptible to cracks.
Apple also included a handy feature that will appeal to everyone who's ever dropped their iPhone: The patent calls for a shock mount to be placed between the glass and the body of the device, which will instantly inflate if the device senses it's falling. If the iPhone's internal accelerometer senses it's falling, an actuator within the device sucks in the cover glass as it accelerates to the ground, protecting it from damage.
OLED Display: Apple is reportedly testing the iPhone 5 prototype with an A5X chip, which is the quad-core graphics processor used to power the Retina Display in the new iPad. But why would Apple need such a powerful chip for an iPhone? Given that the A5X chip is a graphics powerhouse, if Apple doesn't drastically change the physical size of the screen to 4.6 inches, it may be changing the display's overall quality.
Apple has plenty of money to afford OLED screens in an iPhone-sized display, and it would make sense for Apple to ask Samsung to help build its iPhone 5 displays. Samsung knows how to build big, beautiful screens for any size device: Just imagine what Samsung could do with Apple's Retina technology implemented into an OLED. Apple would effectively put distance between the iPhone and all other smartphone competitors for another five years, at the very least.
Apple Avatars: If you want to buy movies, apps, or any content through Apple's iTunes Store or App Store, Apple requires you have an Apple ID. Your Apple ID sticks with you in the company's Game Center, which keeps track of a user's achievements across purchased and downloaded games. But if this recently granted patent has any bearing on the immediate future, Apple users may soon get to make customizable Apple Avatars, which users would use to represent themselves within potential online or gaming environments. Apple users could create a 3D model of themselves, customizing features like hair, eyes, nose, and eyebrows, as well as other features and accessories. While avatars seem to be geared towards kids, it would actually help give users a source of identity while making the Apple brand -- and identification procedures -- a little more fun. Don't be surprised if Apple had Pixar's help on this one: Just look at the eyes.
3D Photography: While existing 3D cameras and video recorders can gather three-dimensional information from objects, they're generally incapable of getting detailed enough information in relation to the shapes, surfaces and depth of the objects. Apple's solution involves a series of systems, tools and methods to capture a 3D image by using multiple sensors and cameras. One sensor would capture a polarizing image, while two other sensors would capture two different non-polarizing images, and Apple's system would combine the images into a composite.
3D Object Recognition: On May 10, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office published a series of Apple patents relating to 3D face and object recognition technology. Apple's system involves taking a picture -- either with a front or rear camera -- and the 3D recognition software would distinguish between the two-dimensional projection of the image and the three-dimensional shape of the objects in the image. The process would be fully automatic, which would help for identifying faces in a group of objects, or even identifying objects in X-ray images.
Multi-Player Gaming: The iPhone 5 might also be the first phone to feature a new piece of software for multi-player gaming. On March 15, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office published a patent application from Apple that describes a system for multi-player gaming, which allows groups of people to play the same game together and even see it from different perspectives according to the devices' physical relation to one another. The system actually mimics that of the Find My Friends app, in which a user's device detects other nearby devices that it recognizes as friends, and invites them all to join a common application. The technology also determines the relative position of those devices, so some games -- like turn-based role-playing games or card games -- can be played in a specific order.
Would you ever replace your wallet with an iWallet? Let us know in the comments section below.